Lessons from the international marketplace

Guest commentary
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Friday, September 1, 2006

Early in my career, I was on a business trip to Latin America. As two colleagues were shaking hands, I reached across their handshake to greet another person. Later, I was told my gesture signified a marriage of sorts. It was an innocent mistake (which they didn't hold me to!), yet it was a vivid reminder to me that the most successful salespeople are those who understand and appreciate differences in cultures and in individuals. With experience in Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, and now as the head of Fargo's domestic sales team, I have found that the lessons learned from the international marketplace can also be applied successfully to sales in the United States.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Working in different regions and cultures requires different skill sets. With some customers, a door can close immediately if a seller goes straight to business and overlooks the need to build a personal relationship with the buyer. In other cases, as in parts of the Middle East, inquiring about family or personal matters may be construed as invasive and even insulting. The moral of the story for U.S. sales? The seller who succeeds is the one who researches and is sensitive to the needs and differences of each buyer, regardless of whether they are geographic, personal or corporate.
ALIGN YOURSELF WITH KEY PARTNERS
Many international integrators recognize the convenience and efficiency of ordering related products through a single manufacturer. They save on shipping costs and can limit the language barriers they may encounter in sourcing their wares. The same lesson is true for U.S. sales. In the case of card identity systems, for instance, there is synergy and value in ordering printer/encoders, consumables, software and accessories through a single source. Consolidated sales and service training makes it easier for your staff members to become product specialists, and volume pricing by purchasing more from a single manufacturer can enhance an integrator's bottom line. But aside from the nuts and bolts of the products themselves, international resellers know that building a trusted partnership with their manufacturer can pay off in crunch times when "a little help from a friend" is what they need to close an important sale.

SELL THE SOLUTION
In certain international markets, sales are extremely price-competitive and integrators offer products at the entry level, especially when there are multiple competitors involved in a bid. However, when integrators can demonstrate extra value tied into higher-end products and offer expertise in consultation, integration, services, installation and training, they can remove pricing as a purchase decision.
For example, a recent drivers' license project in Latin America required special controls to support variable text and imaging on the cards. The customer also had chosen an uncommon card stock with a unique composition, all of which required customized programming to complete. Working with the integrator, Fargo offered professional services beyond just a competitive price, and delivered to the customer's specifications. The project will issue one million cards this year, with a 10 percent increase in each of the next six years.
LOOK INTO THE FUTURE
It is important for integrators to understand an end user's immediate needs, but just as important to help customers plan for the future. In Asia, for instance, a subsidiary of China Telecom went from using a paper ID card system for employees directly into a smart card application, bypassing typical interim steps such as PVC cards with magnetic stripes. Without the legacy of mag stripe readers installed throughout their organization, the customer could bypass the older technology in favor of a new system that better serves their needs today and in the future.
Sellers need to guide their customers properly, considering both the desired card application, and current and future technology options available in the marketplace.
EDUCATION IS KEY
Because a customer's needs may change, the seller who educates the customer often wins the sale. Sellers need to keep current with technology and be unafraid to lean on manufacturers for education.
We all know there's no magic to sales, whether in the US or abroad. Integrators can be successful regardless of geographic boundaries if they identify their customers' needs, integrate appropriate solutions and follow up with dedicated service.

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Erich Rosenwinkel is the U.S. sales manager for Fargo Electronics. He can be contacted at erosenwinkel@fargo.com.